Seasonal depression makes the holidays a challenge!!

miracles-happen.jpg The reports from Centers for Disease & National Institute of Mental Health both show that there is no rate increase of suicide during the cold holiday months. In fact, most get a heightened spirit and probably don’t want to miss any hopeful celebrations that might give them hope for life.

Now I’d have to say that while the numbers of actual suicides reduce during this time, I believe stress, depression, anxiety; emotional challenges increase. If you come from a positive life the holidays are exciting, or maybe just a little difficult to get along with some family at these gatherings. If the holidays are filled with outrageous expectations either financially or in having the perfect holiday home; this alone can be quite pressing, but doesn’t usually cause any suicidal thoughts or major depression problems; more likely anxiety problems.

If you are an adult survivor of childhood abuse, either through parental mental illness, addictions, neglectful, imposed servitude, physical or sexual harm; your holiday with family might be completely out of the question. I do know many who go through the motions. They bury their fears, anxiety, and tears, do their best to fake the holiday excitement without ever saying a word about the difficulties they are battling as a result of these types of harms, even how difficult to be in the same room or house as their abuser. We continue on without ever confronting the subject and often the victims/survivors are the only ones who carry any emotions about what happened. The offenders usually never feel any remorse or guilt, rarely will they acknowledge or apologize. Most will say; ‘It’s just the way things were back then, get over it already’!!

For me the holidays are a huge challenge. I was raised as the caregiver for my brother and younger sister, but neither of them wants to believe or accept what our parents did to train and refuse even the most basic care or kindness to the enslaved child who cared for everyone else. They talk about the alcoholic rage, the violence, the constant late night parties; but not once acknowledge my having to answer his little brass bell or all the other insane attacks and prostitution that were especially worse during those last five years of my teen life. It’s been five years or more since I’ve talked to any of my relatives, or at least the ones I know anyway. My biological father’s family has made a few attempts but in our connections, it’s just casual contact via Facebook. A part of me wants to engage with them, the other side has no idea how to begin. I keep my family/friend contact close and it doesn’t reach out unless someone else is reaching out in that same cautious and distant manner. Close relationships are few and far between, but I really don’t get out to socialize much and of course, the cold makes it even more difficult.

During my younger holidays, I was the one to help with all the cleaning, starting the week before to get everything scrubbed and shined. I was given the responsibility for making all the pies and cleaning up all the mess from dinner with family and visitors. No one had to help, and after my dinner cigarette, it was time to get everything spot cleaned again. I couldn’t sit to watch tv or spend time without being called to serve drinks, clean messes, and making sure everyone else was taken care of, many times being the last one to sit and eat as the others carried on.

I lived in this sense of responsibility and constant pressure through all the special events and holiday dinners through my adult years. Everyone, through marriages, living in other countries, having my little kids; just all the years when life was so busy, the holiday times were much easier to handle and much more enjoyable.

Today the holidays for me are quiet, barely even recognized. If I’m lucky maybe there’s a phone call or a little special time out for my birthday, but as it is for most of us in older years; it’s just another day on the calendar. For me it’s been slowly getting worse, more emotionally challenging for over the past five years. It’s weird because I consider myself to be strong, a survivor, a changed and peaceful person. I don’t understand why the dark clouds and memories want to climb in like they do, but it really turns me upside down.

It could be related to the changes in my physical abilities. I can’t cook a full meal and do the dishes in the same day. My upper body burns like a hot iron rod being shoved through my spine, it’s honestly excruciating. I can’t clean my house like I used to, so my OCD has had to accept dusty shelves, and only weekly vacuuming. My cognitive abilities are changing and my feeling of usefulness is getting worse. There is a huge need to get something else in my life that will help me feel a purpose once again. Something that will help me become a better advocate and supportive resource in creating the needs we want to build in alliances with area resources.

Having to go on disability, being in pain management for ten years, and trying to not let the chronic injuries and pain take the brightness out of my spirit is a daily battle. One that is becoming exhausting but I know I will get there. I know I will be alright. It’s just the hanging on and always having these challenges that simply makes me isolate myself and shut down, rather than seek friendship and encouragement. Like always for each and every one of us who are in this same seasonal/daily funk; only we can change the dark by focusing on something truly good!!

Here’s hoping your holidays are pleasant, that family and friends gather for great fun. I turn fifty-six tomorrow but feel more like I’m eighty and done. I feel out of focus and out of energy. Is it too late to rejuvenate my spirit and help me find a way through the darkness that seems to climb into my world from Thanksgiving to Spring? Like many others, when springtime brings back growth and beauty; the blossom of life seems to create a light in my spirit and a renewed energy to keep fighting; not just to live, but to thrive!!

If you find you’re suffering from depression or challenging emotional triggers at any time, please know you’re not alone. The hotlines across the country are there to help. Survivors, you matter!! Your family matters!! Your sense of peace and happiness matters!! Don’t give up, even if you can’t figure a path right now. Hang in there, talk with your friends, find an advocate source either online or in your community.

Heart to heart, one hand to another, we can breathe life into others and inspire a safer, happier, healthier life journey.

To learn more about getting help for Suicidal thoughts or actions, for help and intervention services – a few links have been provided below. You can also find information through Butterfly Dreams Alliance, NFP; the foundation myself and a team of area experts are continuing to build to serve those throughout Clinton County and South-Central Illinois.

We cannot let the darkness win! Please fight for your spirit and your happiness!!

Wishing you a happy holiday season!!

Suicide Prevention – LifeLine – https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Domestic Violence/Family Violence Hotline – https://www.thehotline.org/

Prevent Child Abuse America – http://preventchildabuse.org/

Mental Health  – What to look for – https://www.mentalhealth.gov/what-to-look-for/mood-disorders/sad

CDC Suicidal Facts & Myths – https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/holiday.html

Butterfly Dreams Alliance, NFP – http://www.butterflydreamsalliance.org

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The voice waiting to be spoken

The past seven years I’ve spoken publicly about my ‘Adverse Childhood Experience’ and the life path of continued tolerance of violence. I’ve been extremely blessed to have made friendships and become a ‘Survivor Voice’ through various task force, trauma training, and community events here in Illinois, but even more so are all the survivors I’ve come to know from around the world and being a Regional Ambassador for National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, (NAASCA.org).

The most empowering part has only been happening for the past year since the #MeToo movement first began. It’s a change I know almost every survivor of violating/terrorizing trauma is also feeling; a spark deep inside for their own voice to be heard. When I first started speaking about my history, I was repeatedly told; ‘Your story is just too graphic‘. It actually caused a cancellation for Illinois Dept of Health Women’s Health Conference back in 2015.

It’s true. My story is absolutely horrific, but it’s not like I had much choice, especially during my childhood. It was the 70’s and it was a small rural Illinois mining town. There was not anyone who discussed objecting against any parent, much less getting involved. It wasn’t what we were taught and it’s not what our society believed was any of their business, mainly because it was all so normal.

Back then we hadn’t even begun to talk about child sexual abuse or child trafficking, which victims only connected with the term child sharing. I’ve written before about my case possibly being one of the worst cases of child abuse in Illinois history. Some of you may disagree but in owning ‘My Truth’ it’s truly empowering to know we are finally being encouraged to discuss some of the details of our experiences, especially when we are using those experiences in conjunction with the data & research of today, along with the growing numbers of victims/survivors getting involved to help change this dark course of pain.

The wheels of change move ever so slowly but nothing will change without your participation as a society. Now is the time if you have experienced violence, sexual harm or trafficking; it is okay to seek help and discuss the lasting trauma effects. I saw/shared a great post on Facebook; “The poison chalice of pain will be passed through your family until you decide to heal…’. This is so very true as I’ve learned first hand in the experiences of my children and grandchildren. Regardless of how my story is received, it is the absolute best decision I’ve made and I will never regret being the one in my family that stated with relentless determination; ‘I’m done’!!

Since this is my personal blog site, and for anyone who wants to change what the past has taught us, work to become the person you know you are meant to become; I want to encourage you to either reach out to me personally at trish@butterflydreamsalliance.org, visit our website www.butterflydreamsalliance.org or connect with www.naasca.org – help and support is available and we do not have to feel so isolated in our confusion and roller coaster life. All I ask is that you think about it; practice telling yourself in the mirror what happened to you, let the tears flow, and when you’re ready; connect with a support service or another survivor.

Reach out to find services and strategies to help you get stronger while you change the cycle of negative influence in your family. Remember that rebuilding is a very personal process and there is not one particular service or therapist, or survivor advocate who will work for every person. Our personalities, perceptions, resilience, and traumas are different, so having more than one helped me a great deal. However, for me, the greatest tool was the ‘Survivor to Thriver’ program through ASCAsupport.org; in rebuilding find what helps you most. There are thousands across the country.

More than anything else, for every silenced or isolated survivor there is at least one or more who are still victims. By educating about reporting, warning signs, early intervention, family wellness & rebuilding parents; by using our past we can absolutely change the future for our children and I hope that ‘My Justice’ continues to reach into the souls of our society and let them know just how important it is to help save a life while they are still young enough to know what real happiness and life success can be despite the hardships of their journey.

We can’t go back and change our history, but we can absolutely choose where and how we move forward today!! I hope that those who just won in our mid-term elections realizes just how important enhancing trainings and reaching out to create awareness in every small community is the only thing that will change our learned behaviors taught through anger, mental illness, addictions, and tolerated harm.

Thank you for reading. We are here in Clinton County, Illinois and we want to begin our ‘Survivors World’ support group sessions, and we are posting awareness signs throughout the area. If you wish to volunteer or get involved please contact me directly at the email given above.

We are all #StrongerTogether 🙂

‘Trish’ McKnight

Butterfly Dreams Alliance, NFP

PS – Some of my history as shared with this post of gratitude that somehow I made it through, some way, for whatever reason – I am still alive and I choose to LIVE!!

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Breathe – Change – Live

Are you holding your breath as we wait to hear the final decision about Brett Kavanaugh?

This is a time when survivors are being triggered because as we hear the details of cases come forward; each has its own similarities our history. It is in its true form, ‘Secondary Wounding‘ because we are waiting to see how the future of these types of crimes along with services for survivors and victims will play out. Because survivors either didn’t tell anyone and seek help at the time of the assault against them, or they were children who had no option but to tolerate and adapt to survive; this is why it is ‘Secondary Wounding’. Society doesn’t recognize or concern itself with our being suddenly triggered while driving a car, smelling a certain cologne, or attending a family gathering. We, however, try to bury our panic by the heavy shame we’ve been burdened to feel for decades. It’s been a pattern of behavior that has been the expectation and taught tolerances throughout centuries.

Can our human society see the damage and destruction of these types of offenses? Are we ready to see with compassion while we provide education, awareness, support and early intervention? Let’s use this time to talk with our children and teens to help them understand what types of offenses these are and how no one has a right to harm or use force against another person. We need to educate about what our justice system is expected to provide; prosecution for offenders and punishment for those who falsely accuse, thus making innocent persons victims by overzealous prosecutors who pressure fearful good people into plea deals without evidence of any crime. Can we change our future so that it is equal in the respect for all human life as intended within the writing of our American Constitution and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights?

The greatest tragedy of our society is that we have passed these distorted gender roles and beliefs, behaviors and reactions throughout centuries. The topic of these offenses is not an issue to be separated by political party lines. It’s not a Democratic, Republican, or Liberal issue; it is a human issue. Our expectations should hold our leaders accountable for their behavior and their history should be above reproach. We cannot have a negative attitude and belief in the tolerances any longer. Our justice leaders with the attitude of ‘good ol’ boy’ behavior should not be the ones determining how we handle prosecution and justice for these crimes.

Remember that politicians are people just like us before they started living a more luxury provided life. We need to stop bashing and shaming people who have been assaulted and harmed by these very serious behaviors. It’s time to realize just how many human beings are dealing with a history of fear from personal violence or attacks. Every leader probably knows or was raised during the past generations of harsh home environments and should, therefore, show compassion and not accept injustice or inequality of any form.

**CDC reports 1 in 4 children affected by some type of harm. Picture the homes around you. Do you suspect or maybe know a neighbor, or family member, maybe see yourself living in a distressful situation? Please get help, for them and for yourself. We deserve to live safe, be safe, and live ‘No Longer Afraid to Breathe’.

Live Strong & Fly Free!!

@ButterflyDreamsAlliance

http://www.butterflydreamsalliance.org

The beginning steps of Human Trafficking

 

 

It’s like your emotional brain has a cold

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I know locally in Southern Illinois there is an effort to inform society about Mental Illness and what we can do to help. 

The day to day forms of mental illness you see in family and friends can be anything from the equivalent of I have a cold to I’m having a heart attack. Mild mental illness is quite common in our high-stress life, especially if you’re spending all your time on the internet or social sites worrying about how popular your post or comment might be. This is usually even more stressful or depressing for teens or young adults who have gone through some difficult experiences; they need to feel that acceptance – they fit in – they do belong somewhere.

If anyone asks how we are doing or if they do say something to us; we probably deny anything is wrong and keep on smiling. Only a few open up and say; I’m feeling down. I’m feeling stressed. I’m feeling……

The key words, ‘I’m feeling’; consider if you had a headache, you wouldn’t tell the world but you would probably take an aspirin or drink a soothing tea. If it was there the next day you’d try to figure out why it’s still there; take another aspirin or another soothing tea. Many of us would do this for a week or so, then we would seek some type of medical check to see what’s going on and why we can’t get rid of the damn headache.

Your son or daughter who seems depressed all the time, may not be contemplating suicide, but it doesn’t mean that school, relationships, or work are not getting heavy for them. Perhaps in a teen, you begin to see an increase in acne or lower grades, poor eating habits. Maybe they isolate themselves to the privacy of their room and only rarely interact with anyone. Perhaps in an adult friend, they seem quieter or less open than normal. Maybe you don’t see them outside or leaving the house. Maybe your coworker seems like they cannot concentrate or they are having to focus so hard on work they don’t even enjoy a joke or a smile at the water cooler.

I am this person…… at least one day a week if not more I have to rise above the depression and get out of my own head for awhile.

When the weather is nice, at least warmer, this is usually easier to do. However, if you cannot get away from the thoughts or the stress, there is a high risk of things becoming more difficult rather than easier. If you do not have family around to help, if you are a single parent, if you are just in a challenging situation day after day, or even a few days a week; this should be when you start reaching out for a connection with someone, somewhere. Create an anonymous name and go online to share what’s going on with another close acquaintance. Careful what you share online, however, let’s not give out any personal information; keep yourself and your location safe unless you are sure of whom you are communicating with. Be smarter and more cautious online, because if you don’t actually know the person, then how do you know what they will or will not do with the details you give them.

The problems become more difficult when we carry so much inside and rarely let things out that really bother us.  Kind of like pushing yourself from the common cold to a major illness or heart attack. The common AMI we see in almost everyone at some point just needs a bit of your positive inspiration to lift up the shade for a bit so the light can get in. Use the renewal of warmer weather and all the blossoms of new life, that time when you do Spring Cleaning; clear the clutter and dust out the cobwebs of our emotions once in awhile as well.

When you do see a person with rage problems or violent outbursts, ranting threats and other such things; this is a person who needs some help and if they don’t or won’t get it on their own, then your only option may be to force through some type of legal process if possible or make them an offer they can’t refuse; such as, ‘I’ll take the kids for the weekend while you decompress.’

Mental Illness doesn’t have to be a lifetime prohibitor, it can indeed many times be figured out and treated, to at least prevent some type of harm to yourself or others, especially if you are around children. If you believe someone you know is becoming more withdrawn or more angry; please remember; this is someone you care about. Help them be brave enough to help themselves, even if that means going along for the checkup. Just like if they were worried about a cancer diagnosis, they might be just as worried about a visit with a psychiatrist to evaluate their emotional stability.

In May and all year long, can you make a commitment to just watch out for those people you care about? You don’t need to watch everyone online or in your neighborhood. We are populated enough that most have someone around, but when dealing with a mental illness they may have burned bridges to family and ties that could and would help them today. If you’re a close neighbor or a concerned co-worker you just might be the only light in the tunnel for them. At least be a person who shows empathy, not sympathy or judgement.

See the world with eyes wide open; no blinders to avoid the bad stuff! The bad stuff is real life for someone and they need us to keep the circle of help running through our schools, our health centers, and definitely in our neighborhoods and our families.

**Mental Health can be any form of Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Multiple Personality Disorder or more. Most of us understand there is Serious Mental Illness (SMI) and then Any Mental Illness (AMI). We usually see the SMI cases through the news headlines, and AMI in our friends and family, co-workers & neighbors.

Truth is – https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml

  • In 2016, there were an estimated 44.7 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with AMI. This number represented 18.3% of all U.S. adults.

Any Mental Illness accounts for these millions of Americans but less than half actually sought out help and/or treatment. Personally, I’m guessing it’s gotta be the stigma attached to being diagnosed. However, maybe it’s because most of us feel depressed and have anxiety about things all the time. We have anger problems, lose control inside our home or at family gatherings but everyone says ‘Calm down’ then moves on to the next family drama.

Only you can be the one to make a choice to address the topic and be watchful of those around you. Together we can create a safer, healthier, happier and more equal society for everyone!!

Thanks for reading

#MHAM #NAMI #NIMH

Be kind 🙂 trish

@ButterflyDreamsAlliance

www.butterflydreamsalliance.org

 

 

 

#MeToo sparks a new focus on the ‘Sex Talk’ with your teens

In our modern world of ‘Fingertip’ media access our teens are seeing the #MeToo movement bring worldwide awareness to sexually related harms. They are hearing about cases of Child Sexual Abuse & Human Trafficking almost daily. Your daughters & sons are reading the headlines, and talking amongst themselves, but do they fully understand how these types of behaviors happen? Do they really understand what human trafficking is or how to help someone they know who is being harmed or abused, shared or exploited; trapped in silence and shame about their worst fears?

Hopefully, you will read this article, have your teen read it, and then have a very open conversation about it so they absorb what is and is not appropriate behavior in our evolving laws and standards of how we value another human life. Hopefully, if you have a high school student you are encouraging them to beware of the online predators, but also to beware of those closest to them; approx 95% of these harms are committed by someone they depend on for survival or those in their closest circle.

Have you had that very real talk about the changes in acceptable interpersonal relationship behavior?

Keep in mind; Law mandates NO PERSON UNDER THE AGE OF 18 CAN CONSENT TO SEXUAL INTERACTIONS!!! https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2422 (Federal mandate, but each state is different, most 16 years or older; some permit 12 if the other person is no more than 4 years older) Know and teach your teen the age of consent and the meaning of consent so they can understand and help a close friend in the cloudy waters of teen behavior.

Do you know that if a boyfriend or girlfriend intimidates, manipulates, or forces you to engage in sexual activity with another person, that it is Human Trafficking, ‘Pimping’ and could lead to some serious legal ramifications?

Does your son know that even when a girl is enticing him to engage in a sexual act, then gets angry because he breaks up with her or because it’s a one time thing; does your son realize he can be accused of a sexual offense, and if convicted (regardless of age) could be sent to prison and be a Registered Sex Offender for the rest of their lives? Yes, your son or daughter, could find their lives completely destroyed for a behavior pushed through mainstream society and media since the beginning of mankind himself?

Does your daughter know that when she sends that nude or revealing photo of herself to someone, that she could be charged with pornography or enticing a minor to engage in sexual activity?

Do you realize that if you rush to file a legal complaint when your teen comes to you with an admission of sexual harm or harassment, that you have to be able to talk about the details; both their behavior and the person they are accusing. You need to ensure that it wasn’t a mutual act gone badly between two young human beings. If you do not talk about the details before charges are brought against all those who fail to follow up or respond the right way after engaging in what they believe is mutually equal sexual activity; it could lead to an innocent young person’s life being destroyed over a misunderstanding or a single non-harming decision. Confirm the facts before you contact the police.

Perhaps it was the other person’s first time? Perhaps your teen really did lead the other person to believe they were older than they are, or that they mutually wanted the interaction to occur? I know how difficult that is to admit because I raised two daughters and a son. I’ve raised the teens who have been sexually influenced as young children, lived in a home of dysfunction; yet no one ever talked about it or provided any services, or support to rebuild their sense of value and understanding of sexual behaviors. I know because I tried more than once to get them help.

I know well how living inside a challenging family lifestyle or a directly harming environment can lead to looking for love and respect in all the wrong ways. None of us is perfect. Teens don’t always understand the violence and harm inside schools, on their streets, shared across social media, and our mainstream media. They get pressured or engage in alcohol, dangerous substances, and hormonal behaviors. If we are going to hold them accountable then give them the knowledge. Help them through the muddy, confusing journey of teenage years, especially in a society that has lived and learned by way of what we say today is absolutely unacceptable. Keep in mind we’ve pretty much created the ‘HOOKUP’ culture since the 90’s and rap music promoted women and girls as ‘HOES’. Now we give them ‘FINGERTIP’ access to porn, violence, hookup sites, and multimedia influences and simply expect them to know appropriate behaviors. However, while politicians are updating laws and enforcing prosecutions, no one is having open conversations about how it is meant to change what they’ve been taught is ‘normal’.

As a survivor of child sex trafficking in a Southern Illinois community; one who lived through a decade of my parents brute violence, rape, neglect, and dismissal of evil that affected my very survival. It created a learned behavior of tolerance and a distorted perception of any sense of personal value. It’s taken years of rebuilding, researching, and constant daily efforts to erase the person they created. Today I am a warrior for protection of our children and prosecution of these grievous offenses. However, if we are not living by the example and educating our kids about what it means for them, then we are going to see an entire generation of people prosecuted and registered sex offenders.

We have to address the challenges of our own human influences and behaviors that we represent to our youth and young children every day. We have to be strong enough to discuss it with them so that if their life is safe, they will know what to do when their friend is being harmed or has had a bad experience touch their lives. We have to give them the knowledge and the tools to watch out for the kids around them; siblings, cousins, neighbors, friends. We have to give them the example to create a more equal, safe, and just society because they are the leaders of tomorrow. They will live in the aftermath of our decisions and changes that we apply today. It is their world now, so it’s time to have those real conversations to empower them and inspire the future we are paving the way for today. 

As adults, we should be asking schools, hospitals, law enforcement, social services, parents, community leaders, and neighbors to help our kids through all these changing views and policies. Remember, throughout centuries, and especially since the creation of music videos & internet; WE have raised our children with specific gender and sexual behaviors. Now with the swipe of a pen, we expect them to know all of those changes and what is appropriate behavior. We expect them to behave and know better regardless of what someone might be doing to THEM or what THEIR home life represents.

How are they going to be the way of the future if their life is being twisted up by some type of inappropriate or misguided behavior? Sadly, young girls are still being taught, either by actions or society, that their only value is in their sexuality and not because they are intelligent, kind and amazing individuals. Kudos to Justin Timberlake for making a choice to change his music style because he doesn’t want his son to grow up with a view of women even his music created.

What conversations will you have with your friends about this article? What kind of conversations will you have with your kids? How are our changing views in society and the updates in our laws influencing your life and the lives of our youth; the lives of success and failure we want them to give their children?

It’s time to have that talk in a whole new way!!!

 

Butterfly Dreams – HEALING OUR PAST TO CLAIM THEIR FUTURE!!!

If you have questions about this article, please contact me personally

trish@butterflydreamsalliance.org

Join the Butterfly Dreams Leadership Teens!!!

Join us for Survivors World support group!!

Thanks for reading 🙂 

 

Trish

www.butterflydreamsalliance.org

www.facebook.com/butterflydreamsalliance

Helping officers understand why victims stay or deny harm inside their home.

VPC Seminar – Trauma Informed Care – Training Sheriffs from South Central Illinois
May 4th, 2017

Why do victims stay? Why do they deny? – Hopefully, in this seminar, you’re able to find something to help you. The moment you walk through that door, what do you need and how can you better assist and understand the dynamics of what this person or family is going through; the fear of staying and what will happen if they leave. These calls are the most dangerous for you because you don’t really know just how bad it might be inside this home.

As a survivor, I’m here to share my experiences in hopes of providing some insight as to what happens to the victims long before you’re ever called to the scene.

As an advocate and mentor I want to share this, but be aware some of it might truly offend you. It’s only to help you understand some of the mentality of the persons you are being called to assist.

I’ve learned about the how & why of my choices in these past 10 years. Tragically like millions it was set in motion by the early distortions and beliefs created by my mother & stepfather. They didn’t raise a child, they terrorized and enslaved to create The Perfect Subservient Victim

My childhood was filled with some of the most grievous actions and terror you could imagine. However, the terror is still the single most contributing factor. My mind still cannot let go of the 24/7 threat of harm, which had been clearly stated by my stepfather within the first few weeks of meeting him. There is no doubt if I didn’t do exactly as instructed all those years, I would’ve died and absolutely no one would’ve cared.

I was his terrorized victim at five when he first threw me on the couch and violently molested me in front of my brother. Then he shoved me to the ground, grabbed a handful of my hair and said; ‘If you say a word, your mom will be angry and you will be taken away’.

I was his kidnapped victim at nine when he called me inside from playing with my brother and sister. He pointed to their bedroom, where I was told to take off my clothes and get into bed with him. As I lay there I could hear the kids still playing outside, but the steel cold in his eyes let me know I had better not make a sound. I don’t know how long it lasted, but Mother walked in when he was trying to put his thing in me; she didn’t do anything. In fact, she yelled at me. He shoved me off of the bed and she growled for me to get to my room. That’s where I had to stay for the night, hungry, alone, scared my mother would send me away. He knew from that moment he could get away with anything. She honestly did not care what he did to me or how he used me.Just two years later I became his actual slave when she purchased him a little brass bell, which no one else in our house was expected to answer but me, even if they were sitting right in front of him.

For twelve long terrorizing years, almost every day was haunted by some act, threat, order or extreme sexual fear. He was very loving towards my mother, never raising his voice to her, and rarely ever intimidating my siblings. She ran the dynamics of our home and could have stopped his actions at any time, but she chose to become part of them and train me to be her family’s caregiver, cook, and housemaid.

I was his target and he made sure I acted as his slave; he would ring his bell for a glass of tea or to begin my night of terror. I grew up without any sense of personal identity, only serving him and all the men and boys he brought over to our house for the late night private parties. He sold ‘special’ time with me at the small local bars, where Mother worked and all their friends hung out. He and Mother took me on their dates; dinner and then the bar for dancing. He would find random men and bring them to our table. At 12 I was drinking whiskey & 7up, so it could easily be passed to Mother. They would encourage me to drink, allow the men to flirt, dance, rub or even take this little girl out to their car.

The use of weapons became so common for me, that by 18 I stood in front of one such threat; ‘Go ahead, do it’. Sometimes I really wished he’d pulled the trigger. My stepfather first threatened me when I was 9 yrs old angry over some mess I hadn’t cleaned up. He pulled out his 12guage, put the shells in it, held it an inch from my face, cocked it, and said; “You are just useless and ugly’. Just a few years later he used the barrel to rape me as he gripped his hand over my mouth to hold me in terror. I could feel my insides ripping apart. I was hoping my brother or sister would walk up the stairs; they were watching our favorite television program just at the bottom of the stairs. He did it to silence me, to take my voice away and keep me from ever objecting against him ever again. I had begged my mother to make him stop coming into my room and watching me shower all the time, but sadly no matter what I did, how many times I ran away; she always brought me back and nothing ever changed -I was simply told if I said anything to anyone ever again, he would blow my head off from the inside out.

They taught me that none of my fear mattered, I wasn’t allowed to cry; I wasn’t allowed to scream; regardless of how much pain he caused. Over the years the parties began including pornography, marijuana, and instructions for whose lap I should sit on or who I should let touch me. When He called at 10pm on Friday night, Mother walked into her bedroom, looking back she said; ‘Have fun’. The later in the morning it got, I was told who was allowed to take me out to the camper on the back of his pick-up. When I got back in the house, most everyone had left, so I was told to clean up the mess. When I wanted to lay down; he came in wanting to hear all the dirty details of my night. If I didn’t respond quietly and exactly how he needed in that moment, he would grab my throat and start squeezing tight, then reach inside my panties.

 

His threats and beatings were constant, sudden and relentless. As much as our neighbors whispered, as much as the men talked about the ‘child whore’, as much as the classmates pointed and shamed; still nothing ever seemed to affect my mother, my siblings, our neighbors, or any of the many family friends who had seen or who had been privy to what happened.

I was beaten on the street and dragged across the road by my hair in the middle of the day. I was cursed and shamed by my mother, my brother, classmates, teachers, family friends and neighbors. They had a special name for me, they talked about my looks; my rotting skin, my rotting teeth, my weight, even how lazy I was not to get my homework done.

I gave up trying to bathe around 12 yrs old; after he had raped me over the vanity one night and then used his leather strap to beat me as he threw me onto a pile of dirty laundry. For the next five years I barely wiped off with a wash clothe, so the dirt caked around my wrists, ankles, knees. I began to break out in this rash which I scratched at each night as I lay there waiting for him to come stalking in like a lion after his prey. He would creep in silently, then suddenly his hand would grasp over my mouth and he held me there, not able to make a sound as my little sister slept right next to me.

Around 13/14 I rarely smiled, as shame and fear needed to cover up the four broken black fanged front teeth. I was never given a toothbrush or toothpaste, never taken to a dentist or taught how to care for myself at all. I actually tried using rolled up little pieces of bread to use as fillings but there was just no base of the tooth to hold them in place.

The kids at school mocked and whispered, teachers avoided contact, and the neighbors and local police just talked about what an evil man my stepfather was and how mean he got on the whiskey, but not a single person ever asked me if I was alright or if I needed some kind of help. I was trapped to live with them, she was my mother and they hadn’t permitted any contact with my father or his family since they got married. There was no place I could hide and no way to escape what was my brutal early life.

The child who walked inside the shell of my body felt everything but had to bury it all and not shed a tear no matter how afraid or how bad the pain. Drugs and alcohol were a major part of how he got me to interact and entice the other boys and men; it became my coping skill. A way for me to get through my life; I could empty myself of the pain and pretend to be ‘normal’.

At 17 my stepfather talked of putting me on a country lot by myself where he could have his own key and bring his ‘buddies’ out to party anytime he wanted. I knew what he wanted to do and I knew I had to get out. My escape came in the form of a 25 yr old man who’d recently split with his longtime girlfriend- within weeks I left my parents with a determination never to return.

Lance was my first love but he was not at all safe. His manipulation started early, to keep me inside without any friends or ability to associate unless he was right there. He constantly got angry over how I looked and my face was smashed against the mirror; ‘You are so ugly, look at you. You’re lucky I let you live here’. He locked me inside the 2nd floor apartment while he was gone to work, sometimes tieing me up and leaving me there through the night. Other times he would come home drunk and yank me out of bed by my hair, drag me to the bathroom and try to drown me in the tub of running water. He beat me beyond my own recognition and threw me around like a rag doll. My head was smashed into every solid surface you could imagine, including a huge tree slab stored on the bedroom floor. We lived above a hair salon, but it didn’t stop or change the time of day or the level of rage that exploded in our home. His family and friends witnessed times he strangled me or through me against the wall. Often they said – You shouldn’t get him so upset’. Well, I was sleeping when he woke me tapping my forehead with a shotgun, then holding me cornered and naked at three in the morning; no way to escape, no way to call for help, no one who would care if I did. I hadn’t done anything, and he always came back with a tearful apology.

I stayed for two years, despite all he did, because I didn’t want to go back to my parents and I just didn’t know what else I would do. I wasn’t allowed to work or have my own money, so I was completely at his mercy for the most basic needs. Unfortunately, it was meant going back as an adult; protecting myself as best I could or die. My stepfather wasn’t able to attack me as he once did, but he constantly intimidated me every chance he got until I was 40 years old.

The next abuser became my husband and father of my children; we were in love and he seemed perfect, but then we got his orders to go to England. He wasn’t much of a physical abuser, he was an emotional and mental manipulator. He made sure that I always remembered how grateful I should be that someone like him actually wanted to be with me. He constantly let me know that I would never be good enough and I was nothing more than his own private whore, that was the pillow talk in our bedroom. My heart longed for love and I had done everything I could to meet his ambitious military expectations of home and family; although I didn’t have much of an example to go from. I could only go with my idea of how I should be and the person I felt I was inside; the mother I wanted to be for my children. Still, the perfect subservient victim never objected and cried silently in her pillow wondering why she was always so alone and never worthy of anyone’s true kindness.

Because we had three kids together I wanted this family and marriage to work. He had many good qualities, even encouraged me to finish school; I stayed. After 4 years abroad, separation, my first nervous breakdown and failed suicide attempt; suddenly I get a call at work and our third child; he had packed up everything we owned and ran away with my children while I was at work. His sole purpose for taking them; because it was the only thing he could do that would truly hurt me. It crushed me

After picking myself up and getting a little bit of money; I took the only basket of clothing he’d left me and rented a Uhaul to get to Pennsylvania, chasing him down with a determination to get my children back. Arriving in an area, I’d never been in before, completely alone, with a total of 35.00 in my pocket. It took a lot of hard work but I built a life there and started to feel that I could actually survive and at least be able to see my kids. I fought him and his rich family constantly for any contact and then I started seeing bruises and bloody noses. He was hitting them but had them believing if they hadn’t done this or that, then they wouldn’t have gotten hit. Each time I saw them, they were changing; not my happy children any longer, but sad and afraid. I did not know who to turn to or where to go, I didn’t want to call the police on him and I didn’t actually see what had happened; I continued to fight; he ran again before they would come back to live with me their innocence and childhood were completely erased.

It only took six months after losing my children, moving to a new area, feeling alone and fighting to see them; that I quickly fell for my next abuser. I should have expected it when things began to change just two months into the relationship. During an argument, he grabbed me around the throat and threw me to the floor. As he was squeezing harder around my neck all I could think of was – Here we go again – Just kill me and get it over with- I was 28 yrs old. A part of me felt I deserved what I was getting because of the pain my kids were going through and somehow I had caused their dad to explode on them, run with them. I felt I deserved it because that’s how it had always been and every person I had ever had contact with had attacked me in some form. ‘Why should this be any different’. It progressed slowly; he would threaten to leave me alone. Then he would slam my head against a wall every couple of days, then bash my back over a hot stove or the bannister outside of my children’s bedrooms.

He got along great with my kids, he played with them, talked to them, even asked his father to purchase us a house when they came to live with us. When he was good he was fabulous, but when the alcohol and the behavior he watched in his father erupted during dinner at least two or three times a week; I was such a perfectly trained victim that I tolerated it all and never called for help. I calmed my children time and again; that bloody lip is nothing; that bruised up eye is nothing. I didn’t realize the deep sense of fear his violence towards me was causing inside my children. We are still working to heal their wounds and their memories of the threats and the violence they watched explode over and over again; the trauma and the fear that caused them to hide in the closets and bury themselves in the covers at night.

I’ll never forget how hard it was to leave him; to take what little possessions I could and walk out the door to find a place that my children and I could live. They needed to stay in the same school system. They needed their friends and I needed to find a job that paid enough to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I didn’t have but one close friend, and thankfully she was there completely those first few months, but then it was just us and I had to keep us going. My life skills were pretty distorted and the injuries Matthew had left me with still seriously impact simple daily living today, in fact, they’ve gotten much worse. To say the least, I was a shattered soul with many wounds I had to ignore because it was simply about surviving and giving my kids a SAFE NORMAL LIFE.

This is a horribly frightening situation to be in and takes great courage to make that final choice to leave, to gather what little you can and try to start over without the slightest clue where to turn for help. Hopefully, they make that choice to never accept another act of harm against them or that dreaded fear to invade their children’s lives.

Most often family and neighbors will not make a call for help until it’s too late and someone is seriously injured or maybe killed. By the time you receive a call the victim, be they child, man or woman; will be terrified of what happens if they actually say something or you take this person away. Where will they go and how will they ever be able to take care of themselves, their children, or even their pet? What happens when he/she gets out of jail? How violent, threatening, stalking and maybe murderess might they become?

A child has no idea about walking through the system or even surviving without their parents; they’ve probably heard the threats, the verbal control and the dominance that is their environment for years before you ever see them. More than likely they might be having behavioral outbursts at school or when playing with other kids. Chances are they don’t realize it’s actually wrong, they are simply always afraid and have no clue how to associate in the typical social setting.

An adult probably has some kind of history in either watching violence and control, addiction or erupting mental illness in their lived chaotic or maybe terroristic childhood experiences. Maybe they have learned or been manipulated and broken down piece by piece by the person they actually fell in love with, keeping them in this quietly controlled behavioral pattern since early on in their relationship. We might never know just how extreme the threats and mental distortions are before an outsider finally gets involved.

Changing means changing everything that is ‘normal’, the learned acceptance of these offenses. Change will have to involve a great many life skills with a strong supportive network. It will have to include everyone; our friends, neighbors, schools, medical providers, and our law enforcement. Change is something we have to begin with a single first step. As officers, you might be the first one to see the control and fear before it becomes a deadly situation or a lifetime behavior.

I’m so glad to see all the work being done to educate and provide help in ways that we have not done throughout human history. The VPC has been crucial in helping me to stay involved and stay informed; to trust myself and my voice in helping others see just how trained in this tolerance of harm we have become and all that circles inside these types of homes with economic distress, addiction, and distorted behavioral beliefs. The end of this year makes twenty years since I first took that step to end any type of harm to invade our lives again, and even though I’ve worked through the worst of the panic and trauma; a part of me and the reflection I see in that vanity mirror – still carries that deep sense of fear inside.

You can help them believe that no matter what has been happening or what their abuser has told them; no matter what they might believe is easier to handle -this is not a place for any person or child to endure. This causes a lifetime of trauma and learned tolerances, a sense of shame, and a desperate need to bury our pain; maybe even die.

You can help them believe people will care, that they don’t have to do this alone. There are organizations and advocates who will help them, but it’s not an easy path to go through. This learned behavior of accepting harm, or committing harm, is the most dangerous place in the world for them. It might be a challenging path, but they need to believe they can survive; live a life without harm or threat of harm.

For me, it’s been a life filled with trauma & terror leaving me permanently injured. Now regardless of how happy, SAFE, and loved I am today, there are many lasting effects from those horrifying and terrorizing 37 years of rape, violence, trafficking, and the never-ending sense of fear. These wounds, the friends & colleagues I’ve made these last seven years; they’ve all inspired a strong voice and spirit for the wellbeing of others, a right to be safe. There are many things I’m still repairing within myself, including the distorted and negative identity. For every victim you may be called to help, please remember a positive first response from you could be the very beginning of a new way of life for them.

In ‘the life’ – survive vs. suicide

As Human Trafficking Awareness Month comes to a close, I’d say there was a much larger presence of those focused on this issue and those others which can be the beginning steps to trafficking. I’d like to remind everyone that for those who have or are trying to survive the influence human trafficking has left on their sense of personal value and the survival behaviors learned while you are trapped.

Human beings, like other animals, adapt to their surroundings. Our inner most sense is that of survival itself. So let me ask this; ‘When you are so engulfed by constant explosive and almost deadly violence wouldn’t you become quite submissive to survive? How long do you think you could hang on? How bad would it be when you started praying for them to kill you and end your misery? You survive the best you possibly can, but if there is no sign of help or hope, you pray they kill you so you are free!!

This is the life you learn to endure and the behaviors of the human being will naturally adapt to keep you alive. Let me assure you; those who do survive rarely just walk the door of trafficking and live life like what is needed to adapt in ‘normal’ everyday neighborhoods. Without residential recovery services like those provided by Eden’s Glory & Grounds of Grace, among others; going from ‘The Life’ to a self sustaining life is usually filled with a path of addiction, mental illness, extreme emotional distress, lack on interpersonal skills, and a continued submissive behavior (despite how hard we try to cover that up). There is rarely any money available from the trafficker to pay for services needed to help their victims, so this burden lies on the shoulders of those who want to help. These are usually provided by nonprofit services who need funding from you and I; they are struggling for funding to help create more functional and self supporting individuals. The end result of their services will change the lives of these persons and the lives of their children and grandchildren.

When you are trapped in this way of life, you learn to live in a ‘Survive vs Suicide’ mode of thinking. The pain becomes so bad physically and emotionally that you pray they kill you just to put you out of your misery. You hope for a way out and if you run into the arms of another person, you are extremely lucky if that is a kind person who truly wants to keep you safe and learn how to live on your own. More common than not you end of up going straight to the arms of another abuser, usually a domestic relationship that starts off being really kind and your survival habits make you more tolerable of acts of control or degrading remarks. These are dismissed and before you know it, one day they take a swing. The first strike is always the most difficult one, so the second will be much easier and more aggressive. This will take over your relationship and become your existence at least two or three times a week. Your holidays will be taken over by the threat or possibility of violence. You will rarely defend yourself and even less likely to leave because of those few good moments you share. You tell yourself, ‘He does love me. He is good to me most of the time. He just gets angry. If I don’t do this, or I stop doing that, he will stop hitting me. Just so long as he doesn’t leave me alone, doesn’t kick me out, doesn’t cheat on me, doesn’t hurt my kids. This is the way of life for those who have been so violently and violated in the life of trafficking.

How is a person who has grown up in this type of threatening environment and distorted behaviors supposed to choose the right relationships or live a stable everyday life? How are they supposed to learn to associate in common social and professional environments? If we do not ensure funding for shelters and rebuilding services for young and old, victims of family violence, sexual harm, and trafficking, then we cannot just expect them to be self sufficient and become a member of the family, become a parent or a teacher, become a police officer or a social services caseworker without some turmoil and dysfunctional behavior.

Now believe me it is possible for those who have gone through this tragic way of life, especially as children or teens, and then become a parent without any support or family around to help them. We learn to isolate ourselves out of the heavy shame and disgust we carry for our past. We can’t just open our mouths and say; ‘I was forced to have sex with a lot of men from a very young age’. Do you have any idea the level of courage it takes to say these words? If it had happened to you, could you just sit down to dinner and say this to a mother in-law, or an uncle? Could you go see your priest one time and tell him these words? Could you go to a stranger, a doctor, or an employer trying to explain why you’re ill all the time or having so much trouble?

This is why it’s important for survivors of these types of traumatic events seek help. It’s why it’s important to find your voice and help others find their own light. It’s why we need the services of Violence Prevention Center, Hoyleton Youth & Family, DHS, SAVE, Call for Help, PAVE, The Women’s Center, RAINN, ChildHelp, NAASCA, and other leading local and national organizations. All of them continue to put their hearts into the mission of saving lives and rebuilding lives, healing generations every single day. I’m very proud today to say that now we also have Butterfly Dreams Alliance, an incredible team who have joined me in creating a prevention and rebuilding nonprofit service for families & professional education in Southern Illinois.

Today my life has come full circle. I am no longer trapped and praying for death. I am no longer contemplating survive vs suicide. I am 55 years old, I am in the best relationship of my life. I have three beautiful grown amazing children. I have three amazing grandchildren. I have made hundreds of inspiring and supportive friends across the country. We have fought to update and change policies & statutes together. We are creating more known knowledge about the human mind and the human heart in every survivor we encourage along the way.

Today my life is truly free and I am so thankful that I did not miss the dance it has given me. Please help those services in your area and across the country!!!